Achieving's one goals in work and in life; regardless of disability
There is a palpable sense of pride that radiates through the screen as Johannes shows us the jet-black watch he loves to wear. Holding it up to the camera with a wide grin, he explains that it is a commemorative gift from Uniqlo, awarded to him on his fifth anniversary of employment with the Japanese retail giant. It is his proudest achievement, he says, and it symbolises the gratitude he has towards his employer. “I am very happy to earn an income and be independent.”
There is a common misconception in society that persons with intellectual disabilities (PWIDs) struggle even to manage their day-to-day lives, but that is an assumption that we need to challenge.
Johannes Cheong, a 27-year-old retail associate with Down Syndrome, is living proof that PWIDs have just as much autonomy as anyone else to dream big, endeavour, and attain the goals that they set out to achieve. This budding ‘Our Lives, Our Voices’ (OLOV) Self-Advocate hopes to share that message with the world. This is his story.
A Conscientious and Meticulous Employee
When Johannes speaks about his job, he does so with a gleam in his eye.
“Being able to work improves my self-esteem and makes me happy,” Johannes quips. “It gives me a sense of dignity. I feel very happy to be employed [and to] receive income.”
Packing, labelling, and displaying clothes on the shopfront are his daily responsibilities at Uniqlo’s Suntec City outlet, but he also often recites pledges during their regular morning team-talks. His earnestness and diligence have endeared him to those at his workplace, and he regularly receives thank-you cards from his managers, supervisors, and colleagues alike.
Even after nine years with the company, he tells us with conviction that there is no other place he would rather work, and it’s not hard to see why.
“Sometimes, I have a lot of new tasks or work to do, but I can ask my colleagues to help me so I can learn and get the work done faster. Because of this I don’t really feel stressed,” he chirps with excitement. “My colleagues are awesome! I always feel accepted and happy!”
His mother, Helen, clearly witnesses how Johannes’ employment at Uniqlo has helped him grow over the years. She tells us that her son has become a lot more independent and confident in travelling, getting his own meals, making decisions, and interacting with colleagues. The extent to which Johannes strives in his work is testament to the value that PWIDs can bring to organisations. However, Johannes’ accomplishments are not limited to the workplace.
A Leader with a Passion for Sport
Being a part of the Olympics is a pipe dream for most, but not for Johannes. The badminton enthusiast had won multiple medals in national badminton competitions organised by the Special Olympics, and even served as an emcee on several occasions. He had also represented Singapore to attend Special Olympics International’s 50th anniversary celebration in Chicago. Helen relays that it is something he is especially proud of.
As a recognised Athlete Leader, he has also had the opportunity to attend a range of leadership training programmes and speak at key events across the country. In spite of these achievements, Johannes maintains a sense of humility, and understands the importance of giving back and helping those in his community. For instance, his mother says that he often extends a helping hand to guide younger players during his weekly badminton training sessions.
In 2018, he gave an impassioned speech encouraging potential donors to donate to the Special Olympics’ ‘Play Inclusive’ event. Speaking with aplomb and heartfelt gestures, he explained how athletes regardless of disability can build friendship, understanding and inclusion towards each other: “I believe this will encourage young people to make a difference and to help create a more unified and inclusive community in Singapore.”
An Advocate for Inclusivity
With vehemence and eagerness to speak up for what he believes in, there’s no surprise that he recently chose to join the OLOV Self-Advocacy programme – jointly organised by MINDS and Down Syndrome Association (Singapore). Its aim is to empower and develop youth and young adults with intellectual & developmental disabilities to become self-advocates for further inclusiveness in society.
OLOV brings individuals with special needs through an introspective journey to explore their strengths and weaknesses, their likes and dislikes, and find ways to communicate them to others. Having been a part of the OLOV programme for several months, Helen is delighted that Johannes has found it to be beneficial to his day-to-day life.
“He is now better at time-management and making time for different activities, especially weekly OLOV [sessions]. He learns how to react and present himself better in public places like MRT stations and shopping malls, and he has also made some new friends.”
What the Future Holds
Johannes’ fervour for gaining new experiences in life isn’t showing any sign of fading. He has set his sights next on learning how to cycle, and is also looking forward to opportunities for job advancement with Uniqlo – the company he is deeply grateful towards for welcoming and taking care of him for close to a decade.
Tadashi Yanai, the man behind the Uniqlo brand today, said in his book back in 2009: “If you always think about your dreams or goals, work steadfastly towards them and continue to challenge yourself, you will definitely be able to realise those dreams or goals.”
Johannes shares with us a similar message dedicated to those who wish to be independent and make their own difference in society. “For other PWID job seekers out there… always do a good job and work as a team!” he emphasises in his distinctively sincere voice.
“Don’t give up!”
As MINDS celebrates its 60th anniversary, we would like to encourage more PWIDs to step forward and advocate for more inclusion in society. Find out more about the OLOV advocacy programme here.
The MINDS Hi-Job! Job Placement Job Support Programme empowers individuals with special needs through providing fulfilling employment and training opportunities. For adults with special needs and industry partners who are interested to enrol in this programme, learn more here. Learn more about SG Enable’s opportunities for inclusive hiring here.